Spray Foam Insulation Can Help Accomplish the UN Recommendation to Decrease Greenhouse Gases

The United Nations’ scientific panel in October made a landmark announcement, stating the immediate consequences of climate change may be closer than originally suggested. The report, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and delivered to the UN scientific panel, describes global consequences ranging from food shortages to wildfires to the mass die-off of coral reefs as early as 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate.

To prevent the increase in warming of the planet, the IPCC suggests greenhouse gas pollution be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. Whether in manufacturing, automotive, energy or construction – there are efforts that can be made to limit emissions by applying innovative chemical technologies.

The construction and architecture sectors have been taking innovative steps to embrace and advance sustainable construction, and more builders are working to build zero-energy homes. Zero-energy homes are air-tight, well insulated and energy efficient, so they produce as much renewable energy as they consume during the course of a year.

As global climate change gains attention, builders, architects and homeowners are working to take meaningful action as residential and commercial buildings alone are responsible for approximately 40 percent of the total energy used in the United States – out-pacing both the industrial and transportation sectors.1 Achieving zero-energy homes is important to achieve the recommendations included in the IPPC Report.

Investing in building materials that help save energy is one of the key strategies to achieving a zero-energy home, and insulation, a major aspect of building construction, is a great place to start. If buildings are not made as energy efficient as possible, the gains made possible by renewable energy sources will be wasted because of air infiltration. A high-performance insulation material, spray polyurethane foam (SPF), saves energy and reduces the environmental footprint of homes and buildings.

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of open-cell (oc) and closed-cell (cc) SPF found the cradle-to-end-of-life impacts were significantly reduced by using SPF because of its high R-value – or its capacity to resist heat flow – and ability to reduce air infiltration in a single product. These positive characteristics offset the impacts associated with the manufacturing of SPF. According to the Department of Energy “Heating and cooling account for about 48% of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes.”2 Further, homes can lose as much as 40 percent3 of heating and cooling energy through cracks and gaps in the building envelope.

Ensuring that homes are adequately insulated and sealed to prevent air leaks will save on energy use and reduce the need for energy production, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using SPF reduces a home’s need for energy to heat and cool, and it helps ensure that the energy a home does require is not wasted due to air leaks.

The LCA found that primary energy invested during the insulation production phase is recovered in less than one year for ocSPF and less than two years for ccSPF. SPF can be used by builders and architects to help ensure their finished projects are built sustainably, efficiently and with the long-term potential impact to the environment in mind. SPF and the builders, architects and contractors that use it are a part of the solution, working toward a more sustainable future and a healthier environment.

As consumers become more aware of ways to significantly increase energy efficiency, LEED and zero-energy structures are increasing in popularity. SPF is proven to be a key part of achieving energy efficiency while helping the U.S. lower levels of CO2 emissions from traditional commercial and residential construction techniques.

The spray foam industry is proud to be developing groundbreaking materials that will move the effort forward and perhaps inspire others to do the same. The environmental benefits from the use of ocSPF or ccSPF in homes and buildings reduces the risk of climate change and, in this way, help protect our planet now and for generations to come.

1 https://www.ase.org/initiatives/buildings

2 https://www.energy.gov/heating-cooling 

3 https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=new_homes_features.hm_f_reduced_air_infiltration